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How to make the perfect poutine

More than just cheesy chips and gravy, this dish is a Québécois classic.Thursday, August 1, 2019

By Paul Dunits
Poutine.

History
Poutine is a Québécois dish consisting of chips, cheese curds and gravy. There’s some debate over exactly where it was created, with various towns including Warwick, Drummondville and Victoriaville all laying claim, but it seems to have come into being some time in the late 1950s, after which it became a staple in the province.

Gravy
This is what ties the dish together. First make a roux, and slowly brown it for extra colour. Then add good quality beef stock — or chicken if you’re adding extra toppings, as it offers a more neutral flavour. The gravy also has to be the right consistency; too thick and it becomes sickly, too thin and it won’t hold up.

Chips
These must be King Edward potatoes, with the skin left on for depth of flavour. They also need to be crispy in order to hold up to the lashings of gravy they’ll be drenched in, so triple cooked are best — but double will do.

Equipment 
You’ll need a deep fat fryer, as this can adjust and maintain the perfect temperature of the oil for your chips. And for the gravy, use a heavy-bottomed pot as this will allow you to brown the roux without burning it. 

Cheese curds
Without curds you’re just making cheesy chips with gravy, rather than poutine. So, you need fresh cheddar cheese curds, referred to by the Québécois as ‘squeak squeak’ cheese. Find them in good cheese shops; the fresher, the squeakier.

Serving
The cheese curds have to be served at room temperature; if they’re cold you won’t get the classic ‘squeak squeak’, and they’ll cool the gravy too quickly. The gravy in turn must stay hot to warm through the curds and help them to melt. Be sure to layer: chips, curds, chips, curds — and then gravy on top.

Variations
Once you’ve mastered the traditional poutine, you could try topping it with some combination of roast chicken, mushrooms, pearl onions, pancetta lardons, pulled pork and coleslaw.

Recipe

Serves: 6
Takes: 1 hr 30 mins

Ingredients                                  
1.5kg King Edward potatoes, skins left on
1 litre chicken stock
50g unsalted butter
70g flour
4 sprigs fresh thyme
280g fresh cheddar curds

METHOD
1   Cut the potatoes into chips, either with a sharp knife or using a chipper (smaller chips are optimal for poutine — 9mm by 9mm is the ideal size).
 Tip the chips into a large pot and wash under cold running water until the water in the pot becomes clear (this will remove any excess starch and help the chips avoid sticking together). Set the pot over a high heat and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook the chips for around 20 mins until they’re just falling apart.
3   Lift the chips out of the pot using a slotted spoon and place on a tray with a cooling rack, then transfer to the freezer to cool (this ensures a crispier chip).
4   Meanwhile, make the gravy. Heat two-thirds of the chicken stock over a high heat until boiling. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot set over a medium heat, then add the flour and cook for around 20 mins until it forms a brown roux (this will give you a darker, richer gravy). Pour in the remaining cold chicken stock and turn to a low heat. Whisk the mixture, making sure to get all the roux from the bottom of the pot, then pour in the hot stock. Bring to the boil, add the thyme and reduce to a low simmer. Cook for 10 mins, then strain the gravy through a fine sieve and season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm until ready to serve.
5   Set the deep fryer to 150C and take the chips out of the freezer. Blanch half the chips in the fryer for 4 mins, then arrange them on the wire rack once again; repeat with the remaining chips. Turn the fryer to 180C, then fry the chips once again until crisp and golden brown. Transfer the chips to a mixing bowl, toss well and season with salt.
6   Set half the chips in a bowl and top with half the cheese curds, then top with the remaining chips and curds. Pour over the gravy, making sure to cover all the cheese curds, and serve immediately.

Paul Dunits is the founder of London pop-up The Poutinerie. 

Published in the September 2019 issue of National geographic Traveller (UK)

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